Lisa Van Dijken describes herself as the Crazy Cat Woman of Skyros, but much depends on what crazy means. Little did she know, when she came to work for a Greek/Dutch Tour Operator what she would encounter and how this would change her life. For the last 6 years she’s fed and cared for stray cats on the Greek Island of Skyros in the Aegean.
Many Greeks have holiday houses on the island and feed the cats during the summer. Even if the strays are not fed, the bins have left overs in many of the resorts. Sadly, very little help is given to the strays when the tourist leave in the summer and their condition deteriorates rapidly in the winter.
The local Municipality has responsibility for them but provides very limited funding for food or neutering. This is where Lisa steps in, feeding and aiding in the trapping, neutering and release programmes. She has also set up a Facebook page to draw attention to the plight of these sentient creatures.
Today Lisa has nine strategic feeding station located around the island. These stations help to create healthy cat colonies in safe places. Lisa’s preference is always a private garden where the strays are at less risk of poisoning or road injuries.
Her home made feeders are placed strategically, to ensure as many strays as possible are fed. At the moment she has 4 feeders in Skyros town and 5 others around the island at locations such as Molos and Magazia. Twice a week she fills the feeders and checks on the health of the cats.
Every trip requires two 20kg bags of dry cat food each bag costing €24 or wet-food costing €15.50 for two dozen cans. Her spiralling costs continue to rise, with the short fall covered directly from Lisa’s own pocket. As she says, “It’s often a struggle to make ends meet.”
Feeding stations have other advantages, treatments such as worming, dealing with ear mites and eye infections can be given. Many kittens are born with eye infections from chlamydia, passed to them by their mothers as strays are not protected by vaccines.
They can go blind in a few days if not treated. If detected quickly enough the kitten can be given eye drops by the vet and make a swift recover in a few days. Even cleaning the eyes with water can save the sight, before these drops are given.
The main goal of Lisa’s intervention is TNR (Trap, Neuter and Return). This has already made a significant difference to the cats on the island. Humane control of the stray colonies, not only decreases the population, but leads to healthier and happier cats.
The Greek Cat Welfare Society (GCWS, now in its 30th year) currently supports over 25 groups on the islands and mainland with grants, equipment, supplies and vets/nurses, in areas including Athens, Crete, Rhodes, Samos, Skyros and Thessaloniki.
This charitable foundation organises volunteer vets and nurses to carry out the neutering in most months of the year; or gives financial and material support to local volunteer groups who organise neutering programmes.
In recent years, the provision of volunteer veterinary teams from the UK for neutering in Greece, has become increasingly difficult due to strict legislation. Vets have to be registered with the Greek veterinary authorities, with all campaigns authorised and held in licensed clinics.
Their involvement is not always permitted or supported. This means a heavy reliance on local Greek vets with hugely increased costs.
“I enjoy good cooperation from my local vets,” Lisa says, “although they are only on the island for four days every fortnight in the winter.” The vets are sensitive to her plight and offer her special rates for neutering.
Nevertheless, animal health and welfare at any level is an expensive business. Costs for the GCWS just for neutering in one six month period amounted to £45,000 and this didn’t include over 50 ‘ad hoc’ requests. With an estimate of 2 million stray cats in Greece, there is never enough money to cover every worthy cause.
Lisa receives a grant from the GCWS three times a year for neutering that amounts in total to 2000 euros. Lisa buys all the dry and wet food from donations and from her own money.
“What I do,” she says modestly, “is just a drop in the ocean. If more cats survive, or there are no unwanted kittens and males have an easier life, then I’ve achieved my goal,” but it’s a relentless task with not many people wanting to help her.
She lives in a closed society where “stubborn attitudes to cats” prevail and where many locals perceive these sentient creatures as vermin.
“Skyrians, generally don’t care about the cats and feel it’s a complete waste of money, ”she says. Once when she fed the cats, someone cried out “Death to all Cats.” That says it all.
At home work isn’t finished with 70 cats roaming the house. These cats require medical treatment or post-operative care, others are blind, deaf or infirmed like a very old cat with a heart problem that wouldn’t survive if released into the wild.
Hopefully Education at school will gradually ensure changing attitudes for the better. This Crazy Cat person meanwhile is determined to carry on despite the enormity of her challenges. As Aishabella Sheikh wrote in her book Jungle Princess “Sometimes it’s the crazy people that bring out the best in us.”
Those wishing to donate to Skyros Cats:
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/StraycatsofSkyros
Pay Pal: [email protected]
There’s also opportunity for a virtual adoption
The Greek Cat Welfare Society (UK)